Advisor: Professor Pamela Fletcher
Yearlong Honors Project
Fall 2011-Spring 2012
My honors project was born out of a long-standing fascination with the aesthetics of nineteenth-century naturalism, natural history museum dioramas, and the work of contemporary artist Walton Ford. Ford paints animals in an anachronistic style that evokes the watercolor illustrations of naturalist artists like John James Audubon. In my project, I wanted to address his reasons for working in this mode as well as the relevance of taxidermy to his art. Many articles on Ford note his interest in the taxidermy dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History, but I felt that none of them sufficiently explored this source material or used it as a visual reference by which to engage the larger concerns of his work.
I argued that human longing for intimacy with nature and the ways that humans attempt to satisfy this yearning constitute Ford’s subject matter. Taxidermy dioramas become important to Ford as they purport to present nature free from human influence, but are in fact infused with human ideologies and narratives. Ford draws from the traditions of naturalist illustration and taxidermy in his art and subverts them, laying bare the ways human beings mediate nature in order to experience the wild on their own terms. Ford is fascinated by the contradictions that accompany our attitudes toward nature—we desire closeness to nature yet compromise and/or destroy it in attempting to achieve that closeness—and he offers us a visual means of reflecting on those dynamics and recognizing our own participation in them.